J.D. Lafrance
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Special Edition DVD Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: Special Edition

November 8, 2005

Director: Gore Verbinski,
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Pryce, Jack Davenport, Mackenzie Crook,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

For many years pirate movies have been box office poison. One only has to look as far back as Roman Polanski’s misfire, Pirates (1986) and the mega-budget flop, Cutthroat Island (1995) to see how low the genre has sunk since the heady days of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks. With this strike already against Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), the fact that it was also based on a Disneyland amusement ride did not help matters. Imagine everyone’s surprise when Gore Verbinski and his crew delivered a fun, exciting summer movie that pushed all the right buttons and did the impossible — appeal to critics and audiences alike. Accordingly, Disney has pulled out all the stops with an extras-packed special edition DVD set that covers every possible aspect of this production.

Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) is a beautiful young woman who is being arranged to marry Commodore Norrington (Davenport) by her father (Pryce). However, she is attracted to modest blacksmith, Will Turner (Bloom) — they met as children when he was rescued from the wreckage of a sunken merchant ship. Their lives are interrupted when the dreaded Black Pearl pirate ship, commanded by the notorious Captain Barbossa (Rush), attacks the port and kidnaps Elizabeth. Will teams up with Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), a reckless pirate, to rescue Elizabeth. Jack has his own agenda — to settle a score with the pirates that double-crossed and left him for dead.

Pirates of the Caribbean is filled with daring escapes, brushes with near death, fantastic sword fights and ship to ship battles on a grand scale. There’s a playful tone to the film that is engaging — it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s the same kind of vibe as with The Mummy (1999), which also had a good mix of laughs and thrills on an epic scale. Yet, there is still an engrossing story and interesting characters that the audience cares for that gives it a more human quality than the typical big budget summer blockbuster that simply plugs in the requisite action sequences and CGI set pieces.

What really makes this film work so well is the presence of Johnny Depp. Known primarily as actor, who shuns big budget studio pictures in favor of challenging independent fare, it seems rather odd to see him in a film like this one. However, Depp does not sell out rather he simply applies his perchance for bringing his own unique take on a character to this role. He is clearly having fun as he immerses himself in the role with his ratty, braided dark hair and his grubby, disheveled look. Depp’s Jack Sparrow swaggers around in a perpetually drunken stupor, stumbling in and out of adventures. He brings a roguish charm to his character that makes him a sheer delight to watch.

Orlando Bloom has the thankless job of playing the straight-laced hero but does an excellent job with the role. There is an actual character arc to Will and partway through the film he undergoes a transformation that separates him from the formulaic hero. Keira Knightley, who looks uncannily like a young Winona Ryder, is absolutely radiant as the damsel in distress. Her character also undergoes a change during the course of the movie. She moves from a passive character to one of action. On a side note, fans of BBC shows, Coupling and The Office will be delighted to spot actors Jack Davenport and Mackenzie Crook in prominent roles.

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of those wonderful surprises that comes out of left field. It is one of those rare oddities of a big budget studio film that actually is able to balance style and content. The DVD set does much the same thing. While there is not as much substance in the extras, there is enough material to keep fans busy and it does keep with the look and mood of the film.

Special Features:

The first DVD features not one but three audio commentaries. The first one is with director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp. This is a relaxed, conversational track as the two men joke around and hint at a very chaotic shoot with Verbinski admitting that he was hesitant to sign on to a film based on a Disney ride — would it have an actual story or just be a two-hour ad?

The second audio commentary is with actors Jack Davenport and Keira Knightley and an interview with producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Their commentaries are for selected scenes, which cuts down on the dead air. The actors’ track is filled with dry, self-deprecating humor but it feels like Knightley is trying too hard to be “on” and comes off as annoying. Bruckheimer’s track is the epitome of business-like but is actually quite engaging because it is so informative.

Lastly, the film’s screenwriters — Stuart Beattie, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio and Jay Wolpert — contribute a commentary. This one will probably only appeal to the hardcore fan that wants to know how the film’s story and characters evolved over various drafts. Subtitles that identified who was speaking at any given time would’ve been a nice option.

The second DVD contains a treasure trove of supplemental material. What they lack in depth the extras more than make up for in quantity. “An Epic at Sea” is a 37-minute documentary on various elements that make up the film, from casting to visual effects to the world premiere. While a bit on the fluffy side, it does convey the huge scope of the production and the challenges inherit with such an endeavor.

“Fly on the Set” is a 20-minute collection of on the set footage showing how certain scenes were made as if seen through the eyes of a crewmember.

“Diaries” is a look at the production from three different points of view. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is an avid photographer who loves to take pictures on the sets of his movies and he talks rather eloquently over a montage of them. Actor Lee Arenberg, who played one of the cursed Black Pearl pirates, presents a fun snapshot of his experiences working on the film. Lastly, there is a so-so look at the life of the one real ship that was used in the film.

On a more educational note, “Below Deck” is a virtual reality tour of a pirate ship that allows one to click on various parts for informative factoids of the time period and aspects of pirate life by a historian.

The “Blooper Reel” is a slickly produced three-minute gag reel of the usual flubbed lines and pratfalls.

There are also 19 deleted/alternate/extended scenes that can be watched individually or all together. Introductions to each scene or an optional audio commentary by Verbinski to put them in context or explain why they were cut would have been a nice addition.

“Moonlight Serenade Scene Progression” shows the process of how the pirates went from flesh to skeleton bones when exposed to moonlight with the help computer graphics.

Also included is an extensive image gallery of storyboards, behind-the-scenes stills, promotional and concept art and so forth.

Finally, “Pirates in the Park” is a vintage bit of promotional footage of the Pirates of the Caribbean amusement ride from 1968.

“The Lost Disc” starts off with “Becoming Jack,” a seven-minute look at how Johnny Depp became Captain Jack Sparrow. Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the film’s director, Gore Verbinski chime in with their respective takes on Sparrow. Of course, Depp talks about the influence of Keith Richards (and Pepe Le Pew!) on his character. This is a fine featurette but nothing terribly illuminating.

“Becoming Barbossa” is Geoffrey Rush’s take on his character. At first, he wasn’t too keen on the film but after reading the script, he liked the mix of gritty detail and escapist fantasy and signed on.

“Thar She Blows!” is a six-minute featurette on the Interceptor ship, from construction to destruction. Several detailed models were created in the process and a lot of meticulous work was done to blow it up.

“More Fly on the Set” features behind-the-scenes footage of the preparation work done to film three scenes, including Elizabeth Swann being forced to walk the plank. This is a nice look at how much work actually goes into preparing a scene and then shooting it on a big budget movie like this one.

“The Monkey’s Name is Jack” is a four and half minute look at Barbossa’s monkey, Jack (aka Levi). There is footage of the monkey and his trainer with soundbites from Rush on his co-star. This extra seems quite superficial and reeks of padding out the DVD.

“Sneak Attack Animatic” is a clip that was created entirely on computer so that that the filmmakers could pre-visualize an attack sequence from the movie.

“Pirates Around the World” is an amusing sampling of what the movie sounds like dubbed in several languages all over the world, including Thai and Portuguese amongst others. It is rather amusing to hear Captain Jack with an Italian accent.

“Spirit of the Ride” is a seven-minute look at how the movie tried to capture the spirit of the ride that it’s based on. Depp recalls fond childhood memories of Disney attraction while interviews with Verbinski and the screenwriters demonstrate how they actually recreated many of the parts of the ride in the movie.

Finally, there is “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” a 14-minute history of the original Disney attraction that was only previous accessible via computer on the original 2-DVD set. This is a nice look at Disney history with vintage clips of Walt and his team planning and actually constructing the famous ride.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 97%

Website: http://disney.go.com/pirates/


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